How To Deal With Negative Publicity Online

how to deal with negative publicity onlineNegative publicity can be detrimental to the reputation of any individual or organization, especially in today’s digital age. Whether it is negative press, reviews, or online backlash, it can quickly spread and damage the reputation of those targeted. Read on to learn about how to deal with negative publicity online and actionable tips for public figures and PR teams. We will also cover some of the worst PR disasters in recent times and how they were dealt with.

What is Negative Publicity?

Negative publicity is any type of information, news, or communication that portrays a company, individual, or organization in a negative light. This includes bad reviews, scandals, accusations, protests, and any other form of media coverage. Negative publicity can cause a significant impact on a person’s career and personal life, or even lead to financial losses.

Negative Publicity Examples

Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Adclose up of hand holding a pepsi can outside

In 2017, Kendall Jenner starred in a Pepsi ad that was widely criticized for minimizing protests against racial inequality. Many people saw the ad as insensitive and tone-deaf and accused Pepsi of exploiting social justice movements for profit.

After receiving widespread backlash for the ad, Pepsi pulled the ad and issued an apology for any offense caused. Kendall Jenner also apologized for her involvement in the ad. She stated that she had no intention of downplaying the issue of racial inequality.

close up of volkswagen beetle

Volkswagon Emissions Tests Scandal

In 2015, Volkswagen was caught cheating on emissions tests for their diesel cars. The scandal led to a major loss of trust in the company and a significant drop in sales.

Volkswagen apologized for the cheating and set aside billions of dollars for recalls and compensation. The company also faced criminal charges and agreed to pay significant fines and settlements. Volkswagen also launched a public relations campaign to regain customer trust. This included releasing a series of ads that admitted wrongdoing and promised to make things right.

Starbucks Racial Inequalitystarbucks cup on a table in a cafe

In 2018, two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. The incident sparked protests and accusations of racial profiling and led to a national conversation about racial inequality. Starbucks faced a major backlash for this incident.

Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, issued a public apology. He promised to take action to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. Starbucks also closed all its stores for a day to provide racial bias training to its employees.

Starbucks introduced a new policy that permits anyone to use their restrooms and sit in their cafes, without making a purchase. Starbucks also made a donation to support a nonprofit organization focused on racial bias training.

The Negative Effects of Bad Publicity

Negative publicity can come from various sources, such as media outlets, social media, forums, or word of mouth. The negative effects of bad PR can be widespread and include:

  • Damage to brand and personal reputation
  • Loss of trust and credibility with customers, clients, and stakeholders
  • Loss of investor confidence
  • Decrease in stock prices
  • Difficulty securing business opportunities and raising capital
  • Damage to mental health due to online backlash
  • Lawsuits, fines, and investigations
  • Decrease in employee retention
  • Higher advertising and PR costs

Fast food companies McDonald’s and Burger King have faced negative publicity due to concerns about food quality and higher prices. These issues have damaged the reputation of these companies and led to a loss of consumer trust.

Similarly, companies like Uber and Amazon have faced negative publicity over their treatment of employees.

How to Respond to Negative Publicity

dealing with negative publicity: 6 stepsWhen negative publicity strikes, it’s crucial to respond quickly and effectively. Use these tips to handle the situation:

1. Monitor Online Presence

Keeping an eye on online activity is vital to be aware of any negative press releases. By monitoring news, social media, and online forums, you can respond quickly and take corrective action if necessary.

2. Understand What Caused Negative Press 

You may already have a good understanding of what caused negative press. Understand the root cause of negative publicity to help take appropriate measures to mitigate the damage.

The Volkswagen emissions tests scandal is a good example. To restore its reputation, the company had to take corrective measures and reduce emissions.

3. Correct Any False Information

Immediately take corrective action if false information was included in the press release. Reach out to the source and request a correction or retraction of the false information.

4. Be Honest & Transparent

If your company is at fault for negative publicity, being honest and transparent can help rebuild your business reputation. This can include admitting fault and addressing the situation in a transparent and responsible manner.

For example, Starbucks took action after protests led to the arrest of two black men at one of their stores. They closed all stores nationwide for a day of racial bias training.

5. Address The Situation

What steps will be taken to prevent this situation from occurring in the future? This might involve implementing new policies or procedures, providing additional training to employees, or even making changes to the company culture. By taking decisive action, you can demonstrate that you are committed to preventing similar issues in the future.

6. Use Positive PR

To combat negative publicity and regain your audience’s trust, a beneficial long-term strategy is to schedule positive press opportunities. You can use positive press to push down negative press in search results.

This can include PR campaigns highlighting the company’s social responsibility, positive reviews from satisfied customers, or corporate social responsibility initiatives.

For example, Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad campaign supporting Black Lives Matter received widespread support from the general public and young people.

Address the Situation: Your Options

  • Ask the source to remove the article if it contains slanderous content
  • Ask the source to revise the article
  • Suppress negative search results with positive press. Creating new, positive content that is optimized for search engines can push down negative search results. 

As an example, police officers who have been accused of sexual harassment can publish positive content. This can include highlighting their community involvement, charity work, or other positive aspects of their careers.


Businesses are run by humans that make mistakes. When your organization is at fault for bad press, take an honest, upfront approach.

Negative publicity can be challenging, but taking the right approach can mitigate the damage and help repair your reputation. As a public figure or PR team, monitoring your online presence and understanding the root cause of negative publicity is critical. Be transparent, take corrective action, and use positive PR campaigns to counteract.

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Knowing how to deal with negative publicity is the first step in navigating a crisis. If you are struggling to stay on top of your reputation, our expert team at Reputation911 is here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation. 

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